Healthy painting practices

  • Choose the safest paint for you and the environment. Latex acrylic paints are preferable to oil based paints, as oil paints continue to emit fumes for months, and sometimes even years. Low VOC paints, which are water based, milk based or made from natural ingredients are generally less toxic.

  • Spring, summer and early fall are the best times to paint, so that warmer temperatures make it possible to ventilate while painting and for a period of time afterwards. Painting when a house is closed up exposes occupants to paint fumes for extended periods, even when using less toxic paints.

  • Separate the area you are painting from the rest of the house. One way is to tape plastic over doorways and close doors. Open windows in the area you are painting. Use fans to draw air from the painted area to outdoors. This also helps keep paint fumes from drifting into other areas of the house. Running fans in a newly painted area also shortens drying times.

  • If you have oil paint on your trim or walls you don’t have to use oil paint to cover it. There are low VOC latex primers on the market specially formulated to allow a transition from oil to latex. Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start and AFM’s Transitional Primer are two possibilities. Other companies make similar products.

  • If you need to fill cracks before painting, be sure to use less toxic joint compound. Premixed fillers often contain preservatives and mildewcides, and some contain small amounts of antifreeze. Powdered compounds are less likely to contain these additives. MSDS sheets will give you some idea of ingredients.

  • If your house was built before 1978, there is a possibility that it contains lead paint. If the house was built before 1960, it probably contains lead paint. Windows, trim and doors were the most frequent interior components painted with lead paints. Lead is a neurotoxin, and is particularly hazardous to infants, children and pregnant women. Scraping or sanding lead paint creates dust and chips which are extremely hazardous. Paint containing lead should never be heat stripped, as this creates a toxic vapour which is readily inhaled. To find out whether you have lead paint in your house you can scratch down to older layers and use a home test kit or send samples to a lab. You can also have a professional lead inspector use an x-ray fluorescence detector. If your house does contain lead paint and you want to remove it, professional advice and extreme caution is essential. See Health Canada’s fact sheet on lead paint at and the US HUD’s

  • If you are chemically sensitive, plan ahead. Some of the best paints for people with chemical sensitivities may need to be ordered from specialty sources. People with chemical sensitivities should ALWAYS test a sample of the paint they plan to use. Test the exact colour if possible, because different pigments contain different ingredients. Chemically sensitive people should also test crack filling compounds. It may seem like a lot of effort, but its a lot less hassle than dealing with paint on your walls which is making you sick. Knowing how long it will take before you will be able to tolerate your house after painting is also useful.

See also Choose a healthier paint, Lead paint poisons children